“Gosh, I don’t know how you do it,” my aunt exclaimed as she sipped her wine. She was asking about my new position as a therapeutic support staff working in Philadelphia’s public schools as we waited for dinner during our annual Thanksgiving get together.
This was a typical response when I explained the work that I do. Generally, my elevator pitch goes something like this: “I work with children who have a range of behavioral issues. Many of the children are dealing with a variety of complicated home lives that range from divorced parents to neglectful homes to having a family member incarcerated – all of which impact their performance in the school setting.”
Before you create an image of what that means, let me preface it with this: I am no saint. I enjoy the work that I do. I am passionate about the kids that I serve. I still have much to learn and understand about the systems that I work and interact with. Yes, my work can be exhausting and it can be frustrating. TSS (Therapeutic Support Staff) workers, when used effectively, are an integral part to a school community. Sure, as with any position, it’s not for everyone, but please do not stigmatize the work that I do as untouchable or saintly.
Let me explain why.
If you Google “inner city public education,” some of your top hits will say something like this:
“Why are inner city public schools so terrible?”
“overwhelmingly black and brown”
Sure, public education is embarrassingly underfunded and over-segregated in Philadelphia. Yes, our schools do struggle with high turnover of (underpaid) teachers and a higher concentration of children living in poverty. But, let’s get one thing clear: My kids are not stereotypes. Each child is brilliant in his or her own way. They are not the color of their skin or the history of their home life.
By Sophie Finn, Behavioral Health Worker